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Press Release

Federal Court Orders Florida Pain Clinic to Close, Physician and Clinic Owners to Pay Civil Penalties for Alleged Role in Unlawful Opioid Distribution

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

A federal court ordered a Tampa-area pain management clinic to close and entered judgments against the clinic’s owners and its former physician to restrict their ability to prescribe or distribute opioids in a case alleging violations of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the Justice Department announced today.

In a complaint filed in October 2022, the United States alleged that Dr. Vivian Herrero, Christopher Ferguson, and Patricia Ferguson violated the CSA by issuing prescriptions for controlled substances without a legitimate medical purpose. The complaint also alleged that the Fergusons used Phoenix Medical Management Care Centers Inc., a Tarpon Springs, Florida pain clinic, to unlawfully distribute controlled substances through the issuance of the illegitimate prescriptions. The complaint further alleged that two Phoenix patients died soon after receiving opioid prescriptions issued by Dr. Herrero, and that drug toxicity played a role in those deaths.

“Medical professionals who facilitate the unlawful use of opioids ignore their obligations under the law,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to stop the illegal prescribing, dispensing and distribution of potentially dangerous prescription drugs.”

“Civil enforcement under the Controlled Substances Act continues to be a top priority for our district,” said U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg for the Middle District of Florida. “We will pursue those who seek to gain financially and otherwise from the unlawful distribution of controlled substances and, where appropriate, we will work to put them out of the controlled substances business.”

“When medical professionals fail to comply with the federal laws set forth in the Controlled Substances Act, they jeopardize the safety and health of our communities,” said Special Agent in Charge Deanne L. Reuter for the DEA Miami Field Division. “The DEA Miami Field Division remains committed to working with our law enforcement and regulatory partners to ensure compliance with these rules and regulations.”

The court’s order, entered on June 29 pursuant to agreed stipulations, permanently prohibits the Fergusons from employment involving the distribution of controlled substances. The order prohibits Dr. Herrero from prescribing controlled substances for 10 years and permanently prohibits her from prescribing controlled substances relating to pain management, in addition to other restrictions. The complaint alleged that Herrero wrote illegitimate prescriptions for powerful opioids and other drugs despite obvious signs of abuse or diversion and without a legitimate medical basis. The court also ordered the defendants to pay nearly $20,000 in civil penalties based on the defendants’ ability to pay.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Merryday entered the consent decree in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

DEA’s Tactical Diversion Squad in the Tampa District Office conducted the investigation. The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lindsay S. Griffin and Kelley Howard-Allen and Trial Attorneys Scott B. Dahlquist and Thomas S. Rosso of the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch.

The claims made in the complaint are merely allegations that the United States would need to prove if the case proceeded to trial.

Updated July 7, 2023

Consumer Protection
Press Release Number: 23-735